What Are We Saying When We Say that God Listens?
Wolterstorff responds to questions raised by portraying God as the God who listens and speaks. He begins by presenting a “Maimonides style critique,” which argues that it is unacceptably anthropomorphic to think of God as listening and speaking; Maimonides assumes that listening and speaking are bodily acts, and therefore one cannot say that God literally preforms these actions. Wolterstorff counters this argument by appealing to speech act theory, which distinguishes between locutionary and illocutionary acts. Locutionary acts are acts of uttering or inscribing words, illocutionary acts are performed by way of these acts, such as promising, asserting, commanding, and so forth. Thus, though locutionary acts are performed bodily, illocutionary acts are imperceptible particulars, and given that God can attend to these acts without physical ears there is no reason for holding that God does not listen. From here, Wolterstorff broaches the subject of theological predication and offers an alternative reading of Aquinas on the issue. Though normally understood to be affirming the view that if a predicate applied literally to creatures it could not be applied literally to God, Wolterstorff argues that Thomas clearly held that some of his claims were literally true of both God and creatures. He goes on to argue, based in part on Aquinas participatory ontology, that Aquinas’ account of the doctrine of analogy pertains to the act of predicating, not to what is predicated – it pertains to the copula (the is of a statement such as God is wise), not to the predicated (wisdom). Wolterstorff concludes that the Maimonides style critique fails, and therefore we should not shrink from affirming that God is one who listens and speaks.
Nicholas Wolterstorff taught at Yale since 1989 until he retired in 2002. Previously, he taught at Calvin College, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the University of Notre Dame and has been visiting professor at several institutions. He is past President of the American Philosophical Association (Central Division) and serves on its publication and executive committees. In addition to numerous articles, he has written the following books: Religion and the Schools; On Universals; Reason within the Bounds of Religion; Art in Action; Works and Worlds of Art; Education for Responsible Action; Until Justice and Peace Embrace; Faith and Rationality (co-author); Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition (co-author); Lament for a Son; and Keeping Faith: Talks for New Faculty. In upcoming years, he will be the Wilde Lecturer at Oxford University and the Gifford Lecturer at St. Andrew’s University.